DHARAMSALA, India: India and Australia begin the finale of a bitterly fought Test series on Saturday, with home skipper Virat Kohli keen to silence attacks that even Australia’s ex-skipper Michael Clarke has warned are “getting out of control”.
Kohli, who has been compared in the Australian press to US President Donald Trump, has had a series to forget so far after scoring only 46 in the first three Tests and injuring his shoulder in the process.
The 28-year-old, who scored a record-breaking four double centuries in the four previous series, has come under scrutiny both over his form and his conduct under pressure after his controversial outburst against his opposite number Steve Smith at the end of the second Test in Bangalore.
Smith, who was accused by Kohli of abusing the Decision Review System (DRS), had the last laugh by scoring a massive 178 in the third Test which ended in a draw on Monday, leaving the series on a knife-edge at 1-1.
Despite clear-the-air talks before the Ranchi Test, more bad blood flowed during the match with India taking offence when Australia’s Glenn Maxwell made fun of Kohli’s injury by clutching his shoulder in mock agony.
Even the chief executive of the Australian cricket board, James Sutherland, has been stirring the pot by telling a radio interviewer that he didn’t think Kohli “knows how to spell the word” sorry.
A defence of Kohli has come from an unlikely quarter, with Smith’s predecessor Clarke slamming the sniping and saying: “This is getting out of control.”
“I don’t think Virat Kohli has done anything that Steve Smith wouldn’t do or that I wouldn’t have done as (Australian) captain,” Clarke told the India Today television network.
“I see the Australian in Virat Kohli. That toughness that he displays on the field, that was the way I was brought up by all the champions in the team that I came into.”
Clarke also warned that a match-winning innings from Kohli could be just round the corner.
“He may come up with a big century and win India the series in Dharamsala,” he said.
India’s outstanding batsman of the series has been Cheteshwar Pujara, who spent more than 11 hours at the crease in the last Test as he ground out a double century.
While full of praise for Pujara, Kohli made clear after Ranchi that he would not temper his swashbuckling style in a bid to get back in the runs.
“Everyone has different style of batting. I would not change mine,” he told reporters.
After his team held out for a draw in Ranchi, Smith said the momentum was now with Australia going into the final game, with the tourists only needing to avoid defeat to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
However, defeat could see Australia overtaken by South Africa as the number two Test side behind top-ranked India, with the Proteas currently playing a series against New Zealand. “One-all in the series — massive game in Dharamsala, really exciting and can’t wait,” said Smith after the Ranchi Test.
Peter Handscomb, one of Australia’s heroes in Ranchi, said the tourists were confident of finishing the series in style in Dharamsala, a Himalayan hill station which is one of cricket’s most pictureque venues.
“Already we can walk away from this series with our heads held high, and if we keep performing the way we are in this final Test we can definitely come away with a win,” he told reporters in Dharamsala.
Whatever the result, India will retain their number one ranking at the end of a season which has seen them host a record 13 Test matches against four different visiting teams.
Kohli has hinted that fit-again fast bowler Mohammed Shami, who recently claimed four wickets in a domestic one-day final, could be brought into the starting line-up in Dharamsala.
Australia are expected to be unchanged for the match.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Karun Nair, Jayant Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund.
Australia: Steve Smith (capt), David Warner, Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve O’Keefe, Matthew Renshaw, Pat Cummins, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade.